Community activists gathered in Somerset on May 21 to deliver a failing report card to the town for its lack of action and transparency in reuse planning. At-left: a community generated reuse plan features mixed-use developments. Watch a video here, or continue on for a press release.
ONE YEAR AFTER MONTAUP CLOSES FOR GOOD, SOMERSET CRITICIZED FOR LACK OF LEADERSHIP
Somerset Residents Call on Selectmen to Fulfill Redevelopment Mandate
Somerset, MA – A year after the Montaup coal plant closed for good and on the anniversary of a bylaw passing at town meeting mandating Somerset to plan for its reuse, citizen leaders held a press conference urging town officials to take leadership in watchdogging redevelopment. Leaders for the Coalition for Clean Air and Save Our Somerset, two local volunteer organizations, as well as several environmental groups including Conservation Law Foundation, Clean Water Action and Toxics Action Center, gathered immediately before town meeting and gave statements urging the town to take action to strengthen Somerset’s economy and plan ahead to protect public health and quality of life of residents.
“We are here today because it has been one year since the reuse committee was formed by town meeting vote, and in the past year we have not been given any concrete information showing positive steps being taken,” said Connie Brodeur, Somerset resident and member for the Coalition for Clean Air. “We’d like to see more transparency by town officials and new owners, and a plan to rezone the prime waterfront property to support mixed use redevelopment.”
Since the citizen mandate passed at town meeting establishing a redevelopment committee one year ago, the committee has barely met, Somerset citizens have not been engaged in a robust public process ensuring that redevelopment plans for their valuable waterfront property have broad public support, and little is known about the new owner’s plans for the Montaup site. The Coalition for Clean Air is critical of the town’s lack of leadership on this issue, and called for an expansion of the reuse committee to watchdog redevelopment and to create a plan to diversify Somerset’s economy. With tax revenue from coal-burning power plants decreasing in recent years, the Coalition for Clean Air argues that Somerset officials must take leadership and plan ahead to safeguard Somerset’s economic future. The group gave the Town a report card with failing grades and urged stronger action.
Shanna Cleveland, Staff Attorney with Conservation Law Foundation, supported residents in calling for Somerset officials to deliver on their commitment: “These residents have worked tirelessly to create a better future for Somerset, and the town officials must now step up and follow-through on their responsibility to foster an open, thorough review of the options for this site.”
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Cleveland cited statewide trends that coal plants are a risky source of revenue for towns, and pointed to the Reuse Committee as an opportunity to explore options for diversifying the town’s economy. Somerset Station, also known as Montaup, closed on January 1, 2010, and just last year announced they were retiring for good. The Salem Harbor Coal Plant on the North Shore has plans to retire by 2014, and City leaders in Holyoke suspect that the Mt. Tom Coal Plant may be on its way out as well. The Holyoke City Council and Mayor recently appointed a Citizen Advisory Group to explore redevelopment options and Salem received state funding to hire a planner for a reuse study.
Al Lima, professional city planner from Fall River, has developed a mixed use redevelopment vision for the Montaup site that would bring in new tax revenue for Somerset. He urged town leaders to support rezoning the industrial site to business. “While the property remains industrial, anything goes…coal, incineration, LNG,” said Lima. “Business zoning invites clean development; theTown should rezone to mixed use and ensure that any proposed use has widespread community support.”
The Town recently announced it may extend the Reuse Committee for another year, and the Coalition called it a step in the right direction. Sylvia Broude, Executive Director for Toxics Action Center, said, “For 2011, we are giving the Town a failing report card, but we are hopeful that officials will work with residents to support the best possible outcome for Somerset. The Reuse Committee can be a resource to watchdog redevelopment and engage the community around reuse.”